We're At Code Blue Status With Henrik Lundqvist
Let me just get the preamble out of the way. I am fully aware the Rangers defense is flat out bad. That’s not news – they were just as bad, if not worse, last season. Girardi is Girardi, Klein has become his twin, Skjei (when not racking up penalties) is subject to hiccups you’d expect from a rookie…etc. As a group they struggle with their defensive assignments & clearing the zone in any way that benefits possession. Worst part of all is that AV’s hands are tied personnel-wise. He’s already trimming Klein’s ice (he’s seen over 16 just once over their last 3 games). In the 7 games Clendening has played since December, the Blueshirts are 2-5 with 4+ goals against 5 times. Obviously not his fault – I’m just pointing out his presence hasn’t exactly changed anything.
Also, I’ve defended Henrik Lundqvist for years on Twitter, the blog and in person from ridiculous “overrated” attacks. But truth is we’re closing in on a calendar year of inexplicable subpar goaltending behind the same shoddy defense he’s used to. You can’t ignore that. The reason I’m pointing it out so much isn’t to pile on a Rangers legend. It’s because without peak Hank, this is not a potential Cup team. With all that said – commence the piling on.
Lundqvist stinks. There’s no way around it anymore. It’s gotten to the point where he’s fighting with everything he’s got just to fend off what might as well be a wrister in warmups. I’m not a goalie but it’s obvious he’s out of position a ton. He doesn’t control rebounds at all & struggles to get whistles. The knack Henrik had for over a decade tracking pucks regardless of redirections has disappeared. While he can still make the reactionary big saves, it’s almost as if teams are coached to just flutter it towards the Rangers net from any angle or distance knowing that’s the kryptonite to the former superhero goaltender.
I got into the numbers about a month ago, but I’ll give an update. Warning – if you’re a diehard Rangers fan, these may be NSFW. All stats are based on 5×5 play for the 37 goalies with 20 or more games played.
– 2.66 GAA (31st), .910 SV% (30th). Dead last (.892) on home ice. Over the prior 7 seasons, his 5×5 save percentage has never been below .929. Last year – 1.93/.937 despite seeing more shots per 60.
Raanta has posted a 2.14/.926 line while seeing the same rate of pucks. For those who think NY plays different in front of Raanta, the Rangers are actually a slightly worse possession team with him in goal.
– In close game situations (within a goal/tied in the first two periods or tied in the third), Lundqvist’s save percentage plummets to .887 (36th). Last year – no one was better than his .944 percentage in close games.
– Here’s the most worrisome part. When the game is bordering on “out of hand” mode, he’s a stud. Lundqvist is the only goalie in the league with a save percentage over 95% when up or down by 2+. Ryan Miller is the only other guy that’s even close. So Henrik is clearly still capable…but he’s uncharacteristically been at his worst when needed most.
Hank has never been the most physically gifted netminder. He’s been one of the best over his career because of his smarts & mental fortitude. Unflappable. As clutch as clutch can be while single-handedly carrying countless Rangers teams further than where they deserved to go. That’s not the Lundqvist we’re seeing now. He left after his 34th birthday & is shrinking in the rearview mirror nightly. It’s not fair to him. He’s been so damn good the Blueshirts brass haven’t done anything to give him help around his net. Now, after a decade of shielding their deficiencies, no one needs to be shielded more than the King.
He’s been beaten on the first or second shots of games in almost a 3rd of his starts. He’s allowed 3 or more in half his appearances since his b-day last March. 4 or more in 8 of his last 16. Other inferior goalies on defensive teams just as bad or worse than NY (i.e Smith in AZ, Niemi & Lehtonen in Dallas) have 5×5 stat lines that destroy Henrik’s. It can’t get any worse.
Can it get better? Well, if Raanta’s injury is anything significant, we’re gonna find out. My confidence is in a complete free-fall but I’ve seen enough of Lundqvist to know not to write him off completely. Despite being able to count “vintage” performances this season on one hand, a fall from grace as instant & severe as this can’t be permanent. If it is, there’s not a defensive acquisition short of 2006 Lidstrom that’ll have this team matter come playoffs.